Sunday, January 20, 2013

Frances and Bernard – Carlene Bauer

Frances Reardon is an author and Bernard Eliot a poet who meet for the first time at a writer’s colony in 1957. They have mutual admiration for each other’s work, which is more than they can say about many of the other attendees at the colony that year. They agree to become correspondents after they leave the colony and over the following nine years the most extraordinary love story begins.

This is an epistolary novel which has only five voices. The majority of letters are from Frances and Bernard but there are also contributions from Frances’s friend, Claire, Bernard’s friend, Ted and their joint publisher, John. Reading the letters is a perfect way for the characters to be uncovered and for the reader to watch the love story unfold. I adore reading stories told through correspondence and even though it sometimes feels like an intrusion into the subject’s private thoughts and feelings, I find I cannot wait to read the next letter in the story!

This novel proved to be an extraordinary accomplishment in penmanship, especially as the main characters are artists and quite opposite in character. Frances is restrained, religious and erudite and Bernard is entirely learned, passionate and suffers with mental illness episodes which seem to be brought about by his struggles with thoughts on love and the nature of faith. Even though there are a lot of religious references and discussions in this story, it did not detract from my enjoyment of it. Frances is devoutly Catholic although she has a hearty dislike of religious hypocrites and most of the nuns who taught her as a child. Bernard is a recent convert to Catholicism and soon realises the construct of his faith is flawed. The discussions around this are so well thought out and not in the least bit “preachy” which is what I dislike most about religion-centric novels. Religion is included in this novel because it is such an important issue to both characters and not just to make a statement to the reader.

Carlene Bauer has written an astonishingly witty, absorbing and ingenious novel which does not shy away from questions of faith, love and suffering for ones art. She skilfully uncovers the controlled and explosive natures of Frances and Bernard and is completely masterful with her use of language throughout the story. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I have read in many years and I was totally absorbed by the prose. I know I will read it many times not only to feast on the language and turn of phrase but to amble rather than gallop through the letters, now that I know what happens next!

This book is a feast of eloquent and witty prose and an absolute joy to read.


1 comment:

  1. This sounds great, I've requested it from Netgalley so hopefully I will be able to read it too!